Let's learn about one of the oldest foes in Dragon Ball history!
Before Frieza, before Vegeta, and even before Piccolo, the Red Ribbon Army existed to ruin Goku’s day. Obviously, it wasn’t hard to be an obstacle during that era of Dragon Ball — balanced between being a fantastical martial arts extravaganza, a broad comedy, and a kind of ensemble road trip adventure, it was inevitable that Goku would get in the way of the organization that, in its earliest form, was devoted to military-esque operations.
Their initial quest was to retrieve the Dragon Balls, specifically for the purposes of world domination — though Red Ribbon’s leader at the time, Commander Red, secretly wanted them so he could use their wish to get taller. Notable staff members that served under Red were Colonel Silver, Staff Officer Black, General Blue and General White. Silver was one of the first major members of the RRA to be introduced, though his failure to nab a Dragon Ball left him facing a harsh execution.
Soon afterward, Goku would find himself on a rescue mission that would lead him to the Muscle Tower of the Red Ribbon Army. This is the stronghold of General White and his array of boss battle-esque underlings. This is no outlier in Dragon Ball plots — the Fortuneteller Baba saga would see Goku and his pals taking on a parade of horror-themed opponents including a mummy, a vampire and an invisible man — and in Muscle Tower, Goku would take on a ninja, an android modeled after Frankenstein’s creation, and a monster. Goku would prevail against all and would even befriend the Android 8 who, rebelling against his master, punches General White into the horizon.
General Blue would follow, with his strong psychic abilities making him a fairly confounding bad guy. He’d doggedly pursue Goku, Krillin and Bulma in his aircraft and on foot through a variety of locations like an underwater cave and a nearby village (one that contains the cast of Akira Toriyama’s previous work Dr. Slump.) However, Blue’s persistence eventually turns to exhaustion for the RRA. He is mercilessly disposed of by Mercenary Tao Pai Pai, with Commander Red feeling like, after recent lackluster results, they should go with an outside hire.
Tao Pai Pai has a notable spot in Dragon Ball history — he beats up Goku like no one ever had previously. Goku is forced to go through an abridged training arc of sorts before he can challenge Tao again. He must complete a task that was last done by Master Roshi, thus allowing his eventual defeat of Tao Pai Pai to serve as a kind of unsaid passing of the power torch between teacher and pupil. As such, Goku’s defeat of Tao becomes one of the high points of the series.
Afterward, we’re treated to Goku single-handedly destroying the Red Ribbon Army — it turns out that most of their claims to might were pretty bogus and the minute a short dude on a cloud shows up, they fall apart. Staff Officer Black kills Commander Red after realizing he’s been betrayed but he stands no chance against Goku. However, he does get to don a cool robot suit, and that’s gotta be worth something.
After this, the Red Ribbon Army mostly fell silent. Their front company, Red Pharmaceuticals, still functions, but the army itself doesn’t get much of a mention again until Dragon Ball Z. It’s during the Android Saga that we learn of former Red Ribbon scientist Dr. Gero. Remember that Frankenstein android? Yep, that was the work of Gero and another scientist Dr. Flappe, and he’s the first android to have a change of heart and start playing for the good guy team. After the Army’s defeat, he took his skills into hiding with him, crafting androids (and also Cell) that would one day cause an alternate universe apocalypse and force Future Trunks to travel back in time in order to rally the Z fighters against the threat.
Gero joins his Android warriors, eventually revealing that he was also turned into an Android (Android 20) because having dumb ol’ human mortality isn’t so great when you’re preparing to go head to head against Goku. His most notable attribute in this new form is his ability to absorb energy and his strength depends on just how much power he’s been pulling out of the Z Fighters recently. That said, Gero eventually learns that, though he’s designed these combatants to serve him and never betray their cause, it was all for naught — he’s eventually brutally disposed of by Android 17.
However, even with its army, its androids, and their creator out of the picture, the Red Ribbon Army marches on according to the plot summary for Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO:
The Red Ribbon Army was once destroyed by Son Goku. Individuals, who carry on its spirit, have created the ultimate Androids, Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. These two Androids call themselves “Super Heroes”. They start attacking Piccolo and Gohan… What is the New Red Ribbon Army’s objective? In the face of approaching danger, it is time to awaken, Super Hero!
Oooh, “carry on its spirit.” If that’s the case, our best boys Gohan and Piccolo are in trouble. You truly can’t keep a good bad guy down, and I look forward to the latest escapades of the insatiable Red Ribbon group when SUPER HERO hits theaters this fall.
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter!